Sarnia, Ont. awaiting COVID-19 vaccines, mayor frustrated by communication issues

Blue Water Bridge from the Sarnia, Ont., side. Nash Photos via Getty Images

Currently, there are no COVID-19 vaccines in Sarnia-Lambton and it will likely be “several weeks” before any arrive, says Sarnia’s mayor.

Mike Bradley says he’s tried throughout the pandemic “not to be critical of the federal and provincial governments” but frustration is mounting over communication issues.

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“The communication is not good. It’s not good out of Queen’s Park and it’s not particularly good out of Ottawa, either,” the border town mayor said during an appearance on London Live with Mike Stubbs on Global News Radio 980 CFPL on Wednesday.

“There are no vaccines in Sarnia-Lambton. It’s 125,000 population — we’re told we’re probably several weeks away from that rollout.”

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In an email to Global News on Wednesday, Lambton Public Health confirmed that it has not yet received the vaccine.

“But we’re working with our stakeholders to plan for its arrival and look forward to hearing from the Ministry when it will be distributed locally,” LPH health protection supervisor Crystal Palleschi said.

Few details have been released about specific criteria determining vaccine distribution, though the province has outlined a three-phase program beginning with vaccinating health-care workers “in hospitals, long-term care homes and retirement homes, other congregate care settings and remote Indigenous communities.”

Dr. Dirk Huyer, a member of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, suggested last week that the group is working to determine the order and timeframe in which specific population groups will be immunized against COVID-19. He said the sequencing would take place “over the next number of weeks” and that it would be publicly released.

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He also said it would include categories and that within each category, there will be further prioritization based on factors such as risk of exposure to COVID-19 and the number of cases in a geographic area.

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In the interim, a provincial web page last updated Jan. 7 states that the vaccination program is currently in the process of growing to “selected hospital sites in Grey-Lockdown and Red-Control zones, expanding to approximately 21 hospitals across the province.”

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However, the province has not announced any changes to the status of individual public health units since Dec. 18.

Instead, a four-week provincewide shutdown was announced Dec. 21, 2020 to take effect Dec. 26.

Lambton Public Health has been in the yellow-protect level since Nov. 30 but has seen a surge in cases since mid-December.

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Between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6, a total of 336 cases were recorded by Lambton Public Health, though case counts on Jan. 5 and 6 were nine and 10, respectively.

COVID-19 cases in the Lambton region appeared to have surged since mid-December. via Lambton Public Health

As of Thursday, Public Health Ontario reports that Lambton Public Health is recording 822.4 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population since the pandemic began.

While it’s a far cry from the over 2,000 cases per 100,000 population seen in Windsor, Peel and Toronto, it is still higher than the 776.3 cases per 100,000 population recorded in Middlesex-London, which began administering vaccines before Christmas.

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It’s also higher than the 273.6 cases per 100,000 population recorded in the Kingston area, which is expecting its first vaccine shipment in two weeks.

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“We’re getting thousands of doses, not tens of thousands, but thousands,” Dr. Gerald Evans, an attending physician in infectious diseases and internal medicine at Kingston Health Sciences Centre, told Global News on Wednesday.

Read more: Record high COVID-19 hospitalizations strain southwestern Ontario health care system

Sarnia is also facing added pressure as it receives patients from other nearby regions facing a resource crunch in hospitals.

“What’s creating problems in the community — I’m not opposed to this — is that there are patients now being brought in from Windsor and Leamington into our hospital because they’re over capacity,” he said.

“I do believe we’re all Ontarians, Canadians and need to support each other. If the situation was reversed, our patients would be being moved to Windsor or Leamington. But it’s the communication aspect which I think has fallen apart.”

In a statement emailed to Global News on Friday morning, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Health says the province has received roughly 143,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine being administered at 19 sites, soon to be expanded to 28, “continuing until the end of March 2021.”

“We have also recently received about 53,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which will be used for vaccinations at long-term care homes and retirement homes,” the spokesperson says.

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“As more vaccines arrive, we will continue to expand to more sites and will be using lessons learned from our pilot and from early vaccinations to make sure we are safe and efficient in this rollout. We are also adding more capacity in staffing as we expand to more sites to prepare for future phases.”

— with files from Global News’ Darryn Davis and The Canadian Press’s .

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